Therapy's End

Therapy's End

Mini Teaser: NATO died with the Soviet Union. Get over it.

by Author(s): E. Wayne Merry

Today, Europe must recognize that some of its injury is permanent and
must simply be endured. In other respects, the healing is complete.
To continue to employ the NATO crutches, although psychologically
reassuring, is not only unnecessary but actually harmful. It is
unnatural that Europe should remain dependent on a non-European power
for its security when its own economy is restored and the Soviet
threat no longer exists. There is no precedent for this in all
European history, and it strikes at the core of European
self-perception. The NATO crutches now prevent the European organism
from developing in a fully-balanced and mature manner, twisting its
body in ways that are painful and ultimately injurious. The crutches
now do more harm than good, and a benign American doctor should send
his European patient back out to walk naturally in the world.

There is no need to bemoan the passing of NATO. Alliances are not
pyramids, but pragmatic undertakings like business partnerships. It
is almost a truism of history that alliances die after achieving
victory. The Atlantic Alliance was a remarkable success among
military pacts. Not only did it maintain cohesion longer than most
alliances, but it fulfilled its most optimistic agenda in full--with
minimal violence or destruction. But all human activities have their
term, and the supreme wisdom in public policy is knowing when not to
press a policy too far.

For better or worse, the United States has global responsibilities
and unique global capabilities. At the same time, Washington's
diplomatic and political capacities are already overburdened. While
U.S. operational and logistical capabilities are today supreme,
America's overall force structure is little more than half the size
it was a generation ago, and its reserves are seriously
overcommitted. The best forces can cover only limited tasks,
especially for a democratic nation that employs only volunteers.
Stated plainly, NATO is a luxury the United States can no longer
justify. This vast subsidy for Europe is in direct conflict with the
procurement and development budgets required to maintain the American
technological lead in an ever-competitive world. Today's precision
weapons will be commonplace tomorrow, and even the Pentagon's immense
budget cannot always keep up.

Painful though it may be for many Europeans to recognize, America's
destiny lies in many directions. Europe is yesterday's problem
precisely because the Alliance's mission was so fully achieved. (As
is surely obvious, the same is not true in other parts of the globe.)
U.S. policy also follows the country's demographics, and these are
changing at a dazzling pace. America's national bloodline becomes
less European in origin every day, as its African, Latin American,
Asian and Middle Eastern identities become more predominant. Whether
one finds these trends worrisome or welcome, the future of U.S.
foreign policy is evident on the sidewalks of any American city.

The transatlantic relationship will not disappear or become marginal
for either side, but it will increasingly become dominated by
economic issues. Despite the frequent assertion that NATO gives the
United States leverage over European economic policy, this rarely
proved true during the Cold War. It certainly is not the case today,
when the single transatlantic relationship possesses mixed political,
economic and security strands. This is the result of our Cold War
success. We can afford to haggle over steel tariffs because steel is
not needed for battle tanks. Brussels will continue to be the locus
of U.S. concerns in Europe, but at European Union offices rather than
at NATO headquarters.

The present disproportionate concentration of power in a single
political entity was not the plan or expectation of the United
States. When the Cold War ended, Washington (with a few dissenting
voices) anticipated that a multipolar "new world order" would unfold,
with the United States as its leading power and significant power
centers in Europe, Russia, China and Japan. The emergence of the
United States as "hyperpower" was in part the product of a
decade-long economic boom that allowed Washington to fund an
increasingly sophisticated military with a declining share of
national income--although the U.S. military shrank substantially from
its Cold War norm. More important by far in the formation of a
unipolar world were the protracted collapse of Russia, the long-term
stagnation of the Japanese economy, the slow transformation of
China's economic success into diplomatic activity, and--above
all--Europe's extended "peace dividend" combined with its refusal to
assume a role in the world commensurate with its prosperity. Thus,
the United States did not conspire to unipolar status but attained it
by default. If the world system is imbalanced today, and if Europeans
feel unease at the scope of America's role, they have none but
themselves to blame.

It is also evident that Europe and America differ quite profoundly
about the role of armed force in international affairs and, more
fundamentally, about the role of the United States. A senior German
diplomat in Washington says he tries to explain to visitors from home
that Americans still believe that fighting for freedom, even for the
freedom of someone else, is a legitimate use of force. Europeans, on
the other hand, regard war as an unalloyed evil, and the last time
Germans were asked to fight for freedom was against Napoleon. America
and Europe do share a common intellectual framework for jus ad
bellum, but in justifying war we place different emphases and even
different definitions on "just cause", "legitimate authority" and
"proportionality." These differences are real and will remain. While
personalities play a role in the transatlantic invective, it is naive
to think that changing a few faces would alter the basic
contradictions, because these are grounded in public opinion. My old
neighbor Robert Kagan has written perceptively and provocatively
about the differences, although he stopped short of drawing the
logical policy conclusions: that the main instrument of the Cold War
now inhibits rather than encourages transatlantic cooperation and
should be eliminated.

It should go without saying that Europe and America need to be
partners in world affairs. The question is, how best to practice
partnership? NATO represents the model of a dominant senior partner
and various junior partners. The growth of European identity and of
European integration makes this approach obsolete, even abstracting
from the end of the Cold War and the lack of an external threat. With
hesitant steps and many imperfections, Europe is nonetheless becoming
a unified and collective partnership of its own. There must be a more
balanced transatlantic partnership, with the United States
undoubtedly the stronger and more active party, but with Europe
becoming an increasingly cohesive and confident player with interests
and ideas of its own. This new model may be unwelcome to many in
Washington--it may be unwelcome to some in Europe--but America and
Europe will thereby become better partners, and possibly even friends.

The essence of a true transatlantic partnership is mutual respect of
a type now absent. Such an attitude can come about only when Europe
respects itself as an independent actor on the world stage and when
America sees in Europe a partner worthy of respect. If both sides
continue trying to resuscitate NATO, the mutual resentment, hostility
and contempt characteristic of the recent transatlantic relationship
will only get worse over time. Mutual respect will not guarantee a
successful alliance between America and Europe, but it will establish
a much more solid foundation for partnership than currently exists.

Mutual respect is not itself a policy, nor will it assure either
accord or cooperation. In some important policy areas, such as the
Middle East, the priorities of Europe and the United States diverge
too greatly for any institution (let alone NATO) to bring them
together. In areas of primary European interest, such as the Balkans,
it is high time for the United States to withdraw. In areas of
marginal European interest, which is much of the world, Washington
and Brussels need to increase their diplomatic dialogue and their
coordination of non-military instruments like foreign aid. Where
American and European interests clearly conjoin, as in fighting
international terrorism, there must be a true partnership.

Americans should welcome a whole, free and non-subordinate Europe. If
the United States and Europe truly share common values, there is
nothing to fear from diverse perspectives or policies. Americans
generally favor competition and regard monopolies as likely to
produce arrogance, uncritical thinking and bad decisions. Very well.
Let us welcome a little friendly competition from Europe, as we will
have more than enough of the unfriendly kind from elsewhere.

E. Wayne Merry is a former State Department and Pentagon official and
currently a Senior Associate at the American Foreign Policy Council
in Washington, DC.

Essay Types: Essay